Dutch news in brief, Thursday 5 February 2009
Read the roundup of today’s press from Radio Netherlands for the latest news in the Netherlands.
Balkenende ends opposition to Iraq inquiry
Today's main story concerns a possible inquiry into the motivation for the Dutch participation in the Iraq war.
Trouw writes that the ban on a parliamentary inquiry—imposed by the Christian Democratic CDA during the 2007 coalition talks—has been lifted. However, the Prime Minister has persuaded parliament to first have an independent commission investigate the issue.
De Volkskrant quotes the PM as saying: "Whatever follows that investigation is for parliament to decide."
On Monday, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende surprised parliament with his announcement that he would no longer oppose an independent inquiry.
On Wednesday, he sprung another surprise when he said that in the event that coalition partner Labour was not happy with the outcome of the independent commission's inquiry, it could vote in favour of a full parliamentary inquiry without causing damage to the coalition.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said last week that the US government requested Dutch military assistance in the spring of 2003, ahead of the invasion. However, Armitage has since retracted his statement and now says the request was not made until later that summer.
AD reports that the Dutch dental association (NMT) is concerned about the growing number of problems involving 'cowboy dentists'; commercial chains which are more interested in money than in the quality of care.
A spokesperson for the NMT says "At least one or two of these chains go bankrupt each year, leaving thousands of patients stranded."
Health insurance companies say a shortage of qualified dentists has led to a proliferation of "opportunists and clever businessmen," increasingly leading to problems such as sloppy work and excessive bills.
Many of the commercial chains hire foreign dentists who officially work under the supervision of a Dutch one. The health inspectorate says: “We're not happy about that, but it's legal…We don't know where they are located, because they're not registered anywhere. As a result, there is little we can do but wait for complaints.”
The NMT says it will meet with the health inspectorate and health insurance companies to discuss possible measures.
Double bonuses for ABN bankers despite crisis
De Volkskrant reports that around 500 bankers at ABN Amro will receive a double bonus.
In addition to a performance-based bonus paid out in compliance with the collective labour agreement, these managers will also receive an additional bonus equal to several monthly salaries.
ABN personnel manager Robert Charlier says the managers involved are all people who have performed several jobs at the same time. In some cases, the bonuses are known as retention bonuses, awarded to retain important managers after ABN Amro was taken over by a consortium of foreign banks.
Finance Minister Wouter Bos, since early October official owner of ABN Amro on behalf of the Dutch state, reportedly said he would respect the agreements between the bank and the international consortium.
In an internal memorandum, the bank's Central Works Council has expressed its surprise that staff in higher salary scales have received structurally higher bonuses over the past years. The memorandum says that the bank "has been unable to give the Central Works Council a satisfactory and acceptable explanation."
Personnel Manager Charlier admits there were differences: "Partly because staff in higher salary scales just simply perform better." The finance minister has asked the ABN board to exercise restraint in awarding bonuses to managers.
Pension and retirement age
The global financial crisis is causing serious headaches for pension funds. In Trouw, experts from the Dutch Association of Industry-wide Pension Funds (VB) and two universities argue for linking the indexation of pensions to the financial means of their beneficiaries.
Professor Guus Boender of the University of Amsterdam says: "You have to set a limit, under which people become vulnerable. This group should be spared."
A VB spokesperson said the professor's idea was a valuable contribution to the discussions about future adjustments in the pensions sector, but added there was as yet no room for their implementation in current recovery plans.
De Volkskrant reports that the cabinet is re-considering the idea of raising the pensionable age from 65 to 67. A gradual increase by about a month a year would reportedly save six to eight billion euros' worth of budget cuts.
The paper writes that other alternatives such as cuts to health benefits or reducing mortgage-related tax breaks are even less appealing. And both Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and Finance Minister Wouter Bos are keen on keeping the budget deficit under control.
A gradual increase of the retirement age would also help solve the financial problems of the pension funds. However, a parliamentary majority is still opposed to the idea, as are the unions, but they may have to change their minds as a result of the crisis.
Achterhoek adopts 'Green Deal'
Also in de Volkskrant, a report on the Achterhoek, a region in the east of the province of Gelderland, which has decided to fight the financial crisis by introducing a green revolution based on the ideas proposed by US author Thomas Friedman in his book The Future is Green.
Regional Chair Herman Kaiser, who is also the mayor of the town of Doetinchem, says the financial crisis presents a perfect opportunity to make the transition to a green economy.
"We can keep reflecting on how bad it all is and how bright the future could be, but to achieve that we need to take action quickly."
The region's plans will be presented on Saturday, and Deputy Interior Minister Ank Bijleveld will be present to see whether this innovative approach could serve as an example for other regions.
One of the concrete plans calls for the creation of an Achterhoek fund to finance sustainable construction of homes and schools. There are also plans for a sustainable innovation centre and an energy-saving kit for homes and shops.
Unemployed workers will be retrained in the use of sustainable materials and techniques.
Radio Netherlands/Georg Schreuder Hes/Expatica